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Predicting national sustainability: The convergence of energetic, economic and environmental realities

Mark T. Brown, Matthew J. Cohen and Sharlynn Sweeney

Ecological Modelling, 2009, vol. 220, issue 23, 3424-3438

Abstract: The “constraint space” dictated by energetic, economic and environmental realities on scenarios for future organization of humanity and nature is explored from the perspective of the energy and resources driving economies. Net energy of energy sources is presented as an index (Emergy Yield Ratio; EYR) that must be evaluated for energy sources to better understand their potential contributions to society, but more important, as an indicator of the changes needed in the future if lower net yielding sources are to be relied upon. An aggregate EYR was calculated for the USA economy and shown to have decreased by 38% since 1950, from 11/1 to 6.8/1. Several measures of efficiency at the scale of national economies are explored and the data suggest that the most efficient economies are also the most energetically intense (as measured by empower intensity). An index of environmental loading is suggested as a measure to evaluate environmental efficacy. An obvious outcome is that the smallest most energetically intense countries have the highest environmental loads, and those with large land area and/or continental shelves have the lowest ratios. An Emergy Sustainability Index (EmSI) is defined, computed for countries, and proposed as a multi-dimensional measure of long-term sustainability. The most sustainable economies are those with the highest EYR and lowest environmental loads.

Keywords: Emergy; Sustainability; Net energy; Energy quality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2009
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